Saturday, 10 September 2016

NATIONAL THEATRE PLUS ONE GATE

There is no question that I should let this lie, and at the very least I've said most of what I need to say on the subject in an article I wrote for The Stage a while back, and the fact I haven't pitched this to anyone is a sign of how absolutely niche it is. But. I had mildly complicated feelings when some of the cool theatre twitter people who smoke at the back of the Twitter bus were bemoaning the National Theatre's capitulation in the matter of +1s after kind of banning them from their bigger theatres. Actually they weren't even that complicated, they essentially boiled down to WHY ARE THEY SAYING I'M A BAD PERSON I'M NOT A BAD PERSON AM I?

I mean firstly, I do think it's important to remember how shitly the NT went about introducing this policy – if they'd just written to everyone saying 'it's 2016 and there are changes being made in the interests of diversifying press night attendance' it would have been really hard to have any comeback, but instead they made a microscopic, unflagged up tweak to the small print of The Threepenny Opera press invite and confused a lot of people (is it really over-entitlement to think it's a bit rude to take away something nice you've offered for decades and not think to mention it? is it smart PR to totally cede the initiative to a bunch of perplexed oddballs by not explaining yourself?). I do think that rather than being the undoubtedly good policy it potentially sounds like on paper, it was a pretty woolly and arbitrary thing introduced by a new head of press who wanted to be Seen To Be Doing Stuff, and the confusing way it was introduced was indicative of an idea that didn't really come with a plan attached (the best answer they gave as to who they were planning to invite instead was 'people like BuzzFeed', which is fascinating, because while this is undoubtedly smart in future terms, it involves not accommodating more requests or engaging with diverse/minority voices, but persuading people who don't cover theatre that they should cover theatre).

Secondly I do take exception to any notion that the Theatre Critics' Circle aggressively forced some sort of climbdown. I mean, let me tell you one thing about the Theatre Critics' Circle: as far as I've ever been able to tell, it doesn't actually do anything apart from host a pretty good awards ceremony at the start of the year. An email was sent around informing people +1s had been scrapped after the NT failed to tell us, and we were asked what we thought about it (my reply in full: 'It's just a bit rude not telling us, you know, I don't automatically think I "deserve" a +1 but it's a nice perk and having it taken away from you without even thinking to mention it when it's been on offer since time immemorial is just a bit thoughtless from an organisation that most of us enjoy a good relationship with'). Then the NT held off on implementing it until the end of the summer as a sort of 'sorry guyz' thing, but as far as I can tell everybody was expecting it to be implemented in October and it had ceased to be much of a talking point. Clearly TCC head Mark Shenton was negotiating during this time and clearly he was 'successful', but nothing of whatever was going on was ever communicated to us and I can't imagine he possibly threatened them because what the fuck would you threaten the NT with? As far as I know he broke out his standard 'paid theatre critics are a dying breed, gissa break' thing and it was accepted and the NT said they're still going to manage to implement whatever they were going to implement anyway.

Should I feel guilty/unethical about taking a guest? I suppose ultimately this is the thing that got to me in terms of writing this lady-doth-protest-style post. There seemed to be some disagreement as to whether a +1 should ever be issued on the discussion, with some suggestion that paid critics shouldn't get one but unpaid should (which I could pick a million holes in but as I can't see the NT ever attempting this then I can't be arsed) and this absolute doozy

Ie 'use your +1 to make the world better, not to bring your mates'. Is it bad to think that's silly? It's not been offered to you as a sphinx-like moral conundrum or because in a fit of genuine insanity theatres have outsourced their outreach schemes to critics. It's been offered as A Nice Thing and perhaps even because of tradition, but surely not as some sort of Big Deal. There are major London theatres – notably the Donmar Warehouse and the Almeida – that never ever ever ever offer +1s to anyone, and clearly it has had no impact. So when I'm offered a seat for a 900-seat theatre (Lyttelton) or 1,200-seat theatre (Olivier) I just think it's fairly reasonable to think they're offering it because they can spare it, not in a desperate attempt to win my love.

Am I stopping a black teenager going each time I take a +1? It's an obviously very weird question: you could probably argue a yes and a no. Are my friends intrinsically undeserving? Maaaaaaybe? I dunno, I overwhelmingly go with one of four people: none of them are rich, three of them probably earn a bit more than the national average, one earns a lot less and is also black – should that matter? And finally there's the question of what I get out of it: I've long since lost the need to have somebody with me when I'm watching art, but essentially I have maintained close relationships with four of my best friends because I can take +1s to the theatre in a way I would have found very difficult otherwise because I have no evening social life outside of the professional because I have a baby.

None of this is 'important', and probably it's all just elaborate spin for my own awfulness, but at the moment I feel so weary about traducement of character being deployed as response to disagreement. Bleh.

Monday, 22 August 2016

I VOTED FOR OWEN SMITH

I just voted for Owen Smith in the Labour leadership election and feel like I may as well blog about what might seem like a mildly controversial choice given that I have blogged about my completely uncontroversial previous choices to vote for Ed Miliband and Jeremy Corbyn last year and to remain in the EU this year.

The election is a pretty weird one, and I'll be absolutely frank that I consider my vote a 'protest' against Jeremy Corbyn rather than a resounding declaration of love for Owen Smith. This is not to say that I think Owen Smith would do a terrible job, but a) I think he has zero chance of winning and b) if he did I think he would probably be a better leader of the Labour Party by simple dint of not being Jeremy Corbyn and c) it seems to me that what some might call the personality cult around Corbyn and others might call outrage that anybody would challenge a popular mandate that means that the attacks on Smith's character are so inevitable as to be a bit difficult for me to really engage with. Is he a bit dodgy? I mean maybe, it's incredibly difficult to really say (the classic Corbyn supporter thing was when a bunch of them – and I'm just talking about 'some guys on social media' – turned on Billy Bragg as an out-of-touch champagne socialist when the Times reported that he'd made some disparaging remarks about Corbyn, then decided he wasn't when it turned out they'd been misreported) I don't think Smith wants to flog off the NHS any more than Corbyn wants to sell us out to Russia.

So I voted for Corbyn last year and still don't really have any regrets: Labour was in a bit of a quagmire and needed shaking up. Obviously it's a disaster now, but I can't help but feel this is a reckoning that needed to happen. I think Ed Miliband was far more leftwing than people give him credit for, but tonally he aimed everything at the 'squeezed middle'; I think what Corbyn's election has essentially done is remind Labour that it could really do with appealing to the actively disenfranchised too. I liked the fact he seemed to have a lot of policy ideas. He wasn't a great PMQs performer, but he made a good contrast with Cameron presentationally.

The main reason I went off Corbyn is that I am a believer in Ockham's Razor (and a disbeliever in elaborate conspiracy theories). MP after MP who resigned from his cabinet cited basic competence as their problem, issues of communication, clarity, ability to build and work as a team. Everything I've seen of his leadership would suggest this is probably true, and that he is an absolute nightmare as a boss (a boss of mine at Metro had an amazing set of principles that failed to have any bearing at all on the fact he was a bit awful). Maybe my perception of this is all filtered through a biased mainstream media lens etc etc. But I think it's fairly obvious that Corbyn is not classically 'brilliant' as a thinker or leader. His policies – which seemed to dry up after the election, until he was faced with another election, and started announcing some of the same policies again – are not exactly hard left. He is anti-Trident and takes a dim view of any form of military intervention whatsoever. That's fairly controversial, but that's pretty much all that's SERIOUSLY controversial. Accepting there are a small number of actual right wingers' in Labour, I don't think his MPs turned against him because they think he's too left wing. I think they did because he's just not very good at the things they say he's not very good at. I don't think he should be allowed a pass on grounds that he has a strong moral compass, or that he believes what I believe in. I think he should be good at his job, because being good at his job will make this country a better place. He simply hasn't grown into it. I don't think. Maybe I have been 'got' by the media.

A few other things that put me off

1. The EU campaign – he wasn't very good, but I think he did try in his own way. But I just thought there was a troubling lack of empathy – or pretence at empathy – at the devastation the majority of Labour voters felt at the result.

2. The Thanet by-election. I was really disturbed by the way he started throwing Labour's win in a small parish election with voter numbers in the triple figures as evidence of media bias and his own success. It just seems either deluded or – more likely – manipulative in a way I hand't really realised he was, a hunk of red meat to stoke up his supporters.

3. Pharma research. His announcement that medical research shouldn't be farmed out to private companies just seemed like a piece of game playing aimed at Smith, of a sort I thought Corbyn might be above. It's difficult to talk about the culture of anger etc around Corbyn, but I think he stokes it up in a way that he infers he does not.

4. The Corbyn emojis pushed me over the edge a bit, I don't really think we should have emojis of our politicians.

Anyway, this isn't an appeal to anybody to change their mind as I don't think it'll matter. Ultimately what will matter is Labour getting over itself and trying to pull together after Corbyn wins with a large majority. I think it will be very difficult if he makes no effort to be better at the things he has thus far appeared to not be very good at, but I live in hope that he starts grooming somebody more competent on the left like Clive Lewis as a successor.

In any case, if you've been arsed to read this far and haven't read this excellent article by his supporter Owen Jones about his misgivings then read it and we'll call it a day yeah.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

DON'T WASTE YOUR £25 CORBYN'S GOING TO WIN ANYWAY YEH

I have lots of very boring and very complicated thoughts about Jeremy Corbyn and all that's come with his leadership, but that's possibly for another blog or if you're lucky not at all.

I just wanted to write something quickly about the pointlessness of the Labour leadership election.

In essence, I can't see that it's in any way possible for Jeremy Corbyn to possibly lose the Labour leadership election and it's daft to pretend otherwise.

To be totally honest, I should say that after happily voting for Corbyn last year, I don't think he's done a good job and I won't be voting for him again. But unless you just want to make a donation to Labour, I would say to anyone thinking of paying £25 to vote for him: DON'T BOTHER, there is no way he can lose. (By the same token I'm not sure if I'll end up being arsed to vote for Owen Smith unless he impresses me, simply because while I don't see he can be any worse than Corbyn at the ledershippy politicsy bit of the job, I don't really see any need to vote for him if I don't actively think he's good because I don't think Corbyn can possibly lose.)

The reason is pretty simple: despite all the grumbling from Corbyn diehards about the various exclusions and price increases being stacked against their man (I'd say an inaccurate but not in fact unreasonable stance to take), the fact is that with the support of the PLP being deemed unnecessary for a standing leader to get on the ballot, the rules are massively in favour of the incumbent.

The reason for that is pretty simple. Over the last year, a large number of people have joined Labour purely to support Corbyn. Corbyn has his own pressure group, Momentum, dedicated to keeping him in power. While I'm sure a number of people who voted for Corbyn after open-mindedly weighing up last year's candidates will go in open-mindedly again, I'm not sure anybody who joined purely to vote for Corbyn is ever going to be persuaded to vote for another candidate.

Obviously a lot of people are expressing disappointment that recent joiners to the party are unable to vote. But Corbyn attracted large numbers of people last year. Pre cut off, nobody was joining the party to support Owen Smith. And as for £25 vote registration, there's only about 24 hours for Smith to inspire people to sign up just to vote for him, while Momentum have been doing the groundwork for Corbyn voters for weeks.

There obviously has been a movement – #SavingLabour – to join Labour in order to 'take it back' from Corbyn supporters at the grassroots. But I find it incredibly hard to believe that 'not Corbyn' is anything like as strong a lure as an actual figurehead to rally behind (and anecdotally it seems that most of my friends who signed up to 'save Labour' became members post-EU vote, ie they can't vote in this contest).

So really, within the rules, you've got a large number of party members who wouldn't vote for anybody other than Corbyn, for whom the hustings process is a total formality, and a well-oiled machine dedicated to getting as many £25 sign ups for him as possible within a limited window. By contrast Smith has about a day to bring in newcomers, and after that the only people who are possibly going to vote for him are longer term members eligible to vote, who are still going in with an open mind. Possibly that is enough members that if Smith got a really good campaign on and Corbyn had a really bad summer and if they ALL voted against Corbyn with no £25 sign ups then Smith might win. But the odds are clearly ENORMOUSLY stacked in the favour of the guy with large numbers of partisans in the Labour ranks. And my title point is probably more aimed at friends who seem to be signing up because they feel Corbyn is getting stuffed by the new rules:

1) because there's such a limited window to sign up to vote for a given candidate, a £1000-a-vote system would still vastly favour a well-known incumbent with a big machine behind him because the challenger has almost no time to recruit voters

2) it may be that Corbyn nicks it on £25 votes, but I suppose my point is that – wishy washy a statement as this may seem – he's going to be so far ahead on £25 votes that he probably doesn't need YOUR £25 vote, ie it's not going to be at all close. If you disagree with me or think I am using the terrifying power of my blog to shaft Corbyn then obviously do sign up, I just don't think it'll make any difference at this stage.

3) bit of a tangential rant, but I've seen a lot of grumbling about the £3 to £25 increase being somehow antidemocratic. I should say that quite aside from the fact that the system favours Corbyn, and that it's the same NEC who voted to allow him on the ballot paper that voted for the price increase, then the idea that democracy is a thing you pay for one-shot instant access to is stupid, it's not Netflix. A truly democratic system would surely be to put it to national vote… otherwise anybody who thinks the paid entry system is anything but a daft gesture from Ed Milliband is being histrionic.

While I am a bit dismayed of his dismissal of the PLP, I don't mean any of this to blame Corbyn: he has benefitted from rules that weren't set up by him, but he was almost completely shafted by the rules re: nominations. I also doubt that a system that was 'fairer' to challengers by allowing a longer sign up time would actually even the odds much because you'd still only be talking about two months for a challenger to amass greater entryist support than the incumbent. Which I think is why none of the Labour big beasts have made a move – they know they'd be spattered by Corbyn and they know the best the opposition to him can really muster is a stalking horse candidate (it's probably also worth noting that despite the endless bleating about the MSM being against Corbyn, it would take a dementedly sycophantic pro-Smith campaign from every media outlet in the world to counter the strength of the pro-Corbyn voices on social media, blogs and, er, the MSM, especially in just two months).

So basically my point is that the idea this is really going to be a contest is pretty erroneous and the next two months are going to be effectively needlessly bruising. Maybe I will write another time about why I don't think Corbyn is very good, but I'm not really sure the internet needs it (it basically comes down to the fact he was shit over the EU, the fact he seems like a shit boss, and the fact that as far I can tell he's pedalling a sort of milquetoast socialism-lite that seems to combine maximum righteousness with minimum discomfort for what would appear to be his essentially middle class support base). But I've kind of tried to be fairly objective, possibly even reassuring of friends agonising over whether to pay to vote: Corbyn is definitely going to win, and Labour will still be in a hilariously divided mess in two months' time.

Er, yay!

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

BREXIT

I am voting to remain for the following reasons

1. I genuinely believe a vote to leave will fuck up our economy.

2. A sort of underlying belief that the EU project has potential and is, at the very least, a sort of insulation against the excesses of Tory governments.

3. The fact is that whatever positive arguments there may be for a Brexit, the whole thing has been hijacked by right-wing and perhaps even far right demagogues. It just seems very hard to believe a Leave triumph won't result in a mandate for people who are really not very good people, and it seems mental to think that some sort of socialist utopia can be cheekily snuck in on the sly.

The whole referendum process has been a demonstration of humanity at its absolute worst, and as much as anything else then whoever you want to point the finger of blame at, it's hard to shake the suspicion that Jo Cox would still be alive if it hadn't been called. At the same time, it's also hard to shake the suspicion that elements the Leave campaign's descent into 'post-truth' gibberish and something close to naked xenophobia has ultimately been what's finally made Remain seem like a cause that people can rally behind, which perhaps it wasn't before.

Labour could probably quite easily have won in 2010 if the left had seen the election as an epic clash of right and wrong. But it seemed more like an exhausted, compromised Labour government versus a Tory party who seemed a lot nicer than previous recent incarnations of the Tory party.

I wonder how Sadiq would have done in the mayoral elections if Zac's campaign had engaged with his policies rather than pitched into racism? He would probably still have won, but I'm pretty sure his landslide came from a support based galvanised by a sense of the inherent 'badness' of his rival.

And likewise, I can't help but feel the sense of Vote Leave morphing from something to disagree with to something to be alarmed by is surely partly to do with – at time of writing – Remain's resurgence. It would be incredibly ironic if Nigel Farage's horrendous, racist, alarmist refugee poster was actually what tipped the balance against him, and it would be further ironic if – after a campaign spent with an ever looser attachment to the truth – Leave were ultimately fatally damaged by people's misunderstood belief that Farage was part of Leave.

Likewise, a lot of Brexiters seem fuelled by a genuine belief that Remain side are actively immoral. Which is incredibly sad. Is hating each other the only way to get passion into this contest?

Fuck knows what's going to come of it all. Cameron has stood up to the extreme right of his party on something like moral grounds. Lefties seem to cautiously like Ruth Davidson. A Labour MP has become a martyr. Farage seems teetering between obsolescence and finally getting the power he's craved. Is this a shaping of a new order? It's hard to say: it's worth noting that the rancour of the London Mayoral election seemed to be thrown off pretty sharpish, maybe that's what'll happen here. Maybe not: it's hard imagine a lot of Brexiters being happy if they lose, for the simple fact that they were unhappy before – Brexit feels like a symptom, not a cause. I think a lot of people in this country don't really like living in this country as it is, or more to the point, find it very difficult, and I sort of feel guilty that I'm not one of them. I hope somebody with a measure of empathy tries to fix things. I suppose basically I wish we'd all just get along. Hey ho.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

THE LONDON MAYORAL ELECTION

There is nothing more irritating than people posting exhortations to 'go out and vote!!!' to a likely readership who were almost certainly a) going to vote already b) the same way as you c) or don't live in London and probably aren't very excited about their imminent council election.

So I just want you to know I acknowledge my own impotence, vote or don't vote how you want, whatever, I'm just blogging to have a public grumble in the hope it gets validated by double digit age views.

But yeah: this whole London mayoral contest has just been so DEPRESSING.

In a way the worst thing about Zac Goldsmith's campaign isn't the awful racism or the fall from grace of a man who might reasonably have been thought to have been a unifier between liberal and wealthy London - though that's a pretty major part of it - but that he doesn't seem to even want the fucking job (other than to beat Sadiq Khan).

Khan's not had nearly the scrutiny for his policies he should have done thanks to an opposition that basically resorted to shouting LOL MUSLIM after about a week, but at least he wants it and will give it his best shot, no matter how disastrous that will prove to be.

But aside from the fact a Zac win will inevitably usher in the most depressing electoral campaign in history in 2020, I just find it hard to imagine that four years of him will mean anything other than four more years of hands off, photo opp mayoralty a la BoJo. Maybe London's many, many problems are in fact insurmountable, but we're not going to find out this way.

So the moral is - racism? Hey, who isn't a bit racist these days, we all read the odd Vice article, right? Goldsmith shouldn't be mayor not because he's a massive racist, but because he'd be a shit mayor. And he's a massive racist.

I shall be voting for Mr Khan, probably Greens second pref because fuck it, who else is there these days and somebody needs to vote Green in Bromley eh.

Monday, 2 May 2016

BECOMING A MASSIVELY SUCCESSFUL FREELANCER

Has it really been four months since I last wrote a blog?

Well, define 'wrote a blog' – in the time since I last PUBLISHED a blog I started another one about my incomprehension of the widely-parroted but never substantiated reportage that Jay-Z sent Beyonce 10,000 roses prior to her performance at this year's Superbowl (seriously: multiple news outlets just reported it straight as if it was definitely true JUST THINK OF THE LOGISTICS OF 10,000 ACTUAL ROSES) but sort of shelved it because too much time had passed since the event (and obviously it's desperately important to remain current here). And I wrote some demented number of words on my trip to Sierra Leone, but I dunno, it was basically a big diary entry, I'm not sure there was anything particularly #shareable about it (blogs I've started but not finished about foreign places I've been to are definitely the most common blogs I've started but not finished).

Anyway, this legend

started nursery last week and as a result I now find myself cash poor but relatively time rich (because I'm not fannying about in the flat in the mornings), so I have decided that in an effort to possibly help us go on a holiday ever again or something I'm going to try and buff up my freelance career a bit.

It's fair to say that my freelance career to date unquestionably peaked when I was basically doing a full-time job, but freelance, at Time Out. If you take that out of the equation, a steady but unchanging weekly rate for running the Drowned in Sound album reviews has pretty much been the backbone of my freelance work and though it's not a huge amount it's made a big difference, the difference between having 'a bit' of disposable income and 'no' disposable income. For a good few years I supplemented this further with book reviews for my old employer Metro, but regime change and modifications to the arts section there mean I've not done anything further for them in at least a year (and Janek's arrival meant I didn't ever bother to chase up).

There are obviously major but not insurmountable restrictions on what I can do re: theatre for publications that aren't Time Out, but they're not too egregious – I can't do theatre reviews and I can't write an article that Time Out would have wanted, but theatre being modesty hifalutin then there's actually quite a lot of comment and more in depth feature-y stuff that Time Out would never run.

I don't think I've attempted to pitch anything to anyone not Time Out in at least five years, but I have been approached to do various things, notably an article for an in flight magazine (which I wrote), The Stage very kindly payed me to run an edit of a blog I'd written, and The Guardian once randomly phoned me asking if I could do a reviews round-up on The Book of Mormon (I couldn't, I was literally phoned as I was about to get on the Eurostar and would have no internet until after the deadline).

So that's better than nothing and if we accept my writing is at least serviceable my sole and definitely only problem in terms of not being a Caitlin Moran/Boris Johnson-level success is that I find the idea of 'putting myself out there' excruciating on almost every level, like I dunno, there is literally nothing more pitiful than freelance rejection (probably something that comes from watching the Dutch wine scene in Nathan Barley at a formative age).

Anyway, what I've decided to do is blog about my attempt to stoke my freelance career, because somehow that's fine, like I am doing a performance art or simply applying an ironic filter to the experience so I can turn failure into a big joke or something.

Probably this will be by only post on the subject, ever, but let me tell you as if right now I INTEND to do it, which is basically the same thing.

Monday, 11 January 2016

DAVID FUCKING BOWIE

I’m not especially proud of it, but I actually cried quite a bit – by my own, rugged standards at least – at the news of David Bowie’s passing. I keep tearing up at my desk, worried that my monstrous bastard workmates will sense my weakness. Is that weird? I have never cried at the death of somebody I didn't know before and I doubt I ever will again. I am shocked by how sad I feel, even if at the same time a part of me certainly understands that – genius as he was – Bowie has absolutely 100% played us with his death.

He held on way beyond what was necessary to both open a musical (Lazarus) and put out an album (Blackstar) in the last month of his life, dramatically dying two days after the latter was symbolically released on his sixth-ninth birthday. Fuck knows what his last days and hours were like, or when the promo videos for the Blackstar singles were actually shot. I hope we never know: in the public eye Bowie never got old or weak or frail, never became a ‘cancer victim’ – he was in his pomp, riding high, then strode offstage imperiously.

Nonetheless, I do feel sad (in fact, much as I'm second guessing what happened, then dying in such a way is an incredibly brave, artistically committed thing to so probably accounts for part of why I am sad).

A lot of people are talking about his blah blah ‘70s and my natural instinct would be to mount some pugnacious defense of his ‘90s work, but I’ve already done that at least a billion times and it would probably be beside the point here a little. There is no point in blathering on in great detail about Bowie’s brilliance, because there is almost nothing left to say. But I suppose it is the loss of his brilliance that is making me feel sad. Yes, most of his greatest work was done in a ten-year-period between 1971 and 1980, but he carried on and he rarely stopped feeling vital, both in terms of his own questing spirit as an artist and the fact that almost none of his good music has dated.

I think I feel sad because he was brilliant and he shaped us and he overawed us and he defined us and now he has left us all alone.

NB here is a playlist I made a few years ago of some of Bowie’s ‘post megastardom’ music